Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Lack of H.O.R.S.E. Sense

Poor England. Done in by penalty kicks (more accurately, a “penalty shootout”). Hell of an effort to hang in a man down for most of the second half and the two OTs. Still, had a bad feeling for England as soon as the PKs began. I suppose I understand why the penalty shootout was brought in as a way of deciding knockout stage World Cup matches, and I won’t deny they’re exciting to watch. Can’t help but feel there’s something anticlimactic, though, to have two teams battle for 120 minutes only to have the match decided in this fashion. Something like having a basketball game go several overtimes only to be settled in the end by a free throw shooting contest . . . .

Well, there’s always poker. The World Series of Poker is now well underway and like everyone else I’ve got one eye on my table and the other scanning for updated results and stories from the various tourneys on sites like CardPlayer, Poker Wire, Tao of Poker, the WSOP official site, and others. Indeed, as I write this post I’m following the final table of the $2,500 NLH 6-handed event where Joe Hachem, Dutch Boyd, and Jeff Knight are (at this moment) the last three standing.

Probably the most anticipated event at this year’s WSOP -- other than the Main Event, of course -- is Event 20, the $50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. event that begins Wednesday, July 12. As most of you probably know, H.O.R.S.E. is a mixed game that combines Hold ’em, Omaha 8-or-better (also called Hi-Lo), Razz, Stud, and Stud 8-or-better (or Hi-Lo). The game changes each time the blinds go up, and all five of the games -- including Hold ’em -- are played as limit games. Usually, anyway.

Thanks in part to the H.O.R.S.E. event and the other non-Hold ’em events in the WSOP, I’ve found myself drifting over to the other games online over the last couple of days. I’ve even sat on the rail at the Razz tables on Full Tilt Poker a bit, contemplating whether or not to dip my toe in the shallow end. I have a plan of sorts for July to get back into Omaha and Stud (games which I used to play more regularly, but haven’t really played seriously for the last six months or so). Maybe by summer’s end I’ll even give one of those $5.00+$1.00 H.O.R.S.E. tourneys they run on Full Tilt a shot.

Regarding the H.O.R.S.E. event at this year’s WSOP, there have been two main bones of contention. One concerns the high buy-in, which delights some of the pros (like Daniel Negreanu, last spring’s most vocal proponent for adding the event) insofar as it virtually guarantees a field comprised primarily of serious, high-bankrolled professional players. I’ve no idea what the over-under currently is regarding the number of potential entrants. On his new weekly ESPN podcast The Poker Edge, Phil Gordon (citing Erik Seidel as an authority) suggested 85, which sounds about right. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if less than 100 lay down the 50,000 clams for this one. I think the high buy-in is a good idea, not so much because it weeds out the “riff-raff” (as some pros -- e.g., Mike Matusow -- routinely describe non-circuit players), but because it helps distinguish the event even further from the other forty-four. The high buy-in is definitely going to cause more people to pay attention, thereby creating more interest in games like Omaha, Razz, and Stud. And that’s a good thing for poker, I think.

The other controversy concerns the decision by WSOP officials to make the final table of the event No Limit Hold ’em only -- that is, essentially to end the “H.O.R.S.E.” part of the game and revert back to the familiar NLH we’ve seen endless versions of on ESPN, the Travel Channel, and elsewhere already. (Click here to see the WSOP’s official structure sheet that describes how the entire event will go down.) Concerning this issue, I’m strongly opposed to switching the format once they’ve whittled the field down to the last table. Doing so defeats the entire purpose of H.O.R.S.E., a game that allegedly tests players’ abilities to compete successfully in several limit games, none of which allow players to negate post-flop strategic advantages by going all-in. Never mind how switching to NLH for the final table -- the only part of the event that will be televised, of course -- completely counters the event’s ability to foster interest in non-Hold ’em games.

To me, giving up the H.O.R.S.E. format in favor of using NL Hold ’em to decide the winner is a lot like resorting to a penalty shootout to decide who advances in the World Cup. In both cases, you’re essentially taking the “play” out of the contest, adding a much higher degree of chance that ultimately negates (or at least compromises heavily) the test of skill the original game is supposed to represent.

It looks like its Hachem and Boyd heads-up. Ought to make for a story either way.

Hope to see some of you over at the Razz tables soon!

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